“In Success you deserve it and in defeat, you need it,”
Winston Churchill understood the true value of Champagne
My bucket list is long, so I thought I’d start tackling some of the items when I turned 40! Why not? On my 40th birthday I wanted to experience Champagne tasting in France!! So off we went to Paris and planned a day trip to Reims. Reims, Épernay and Ay, are the center of Champagne production and home to some of the largest Champagne-producing houses headquarters in the world such as Mumm, Moet, Pommery, Taittinger and Chandon. It was time to book a day of Champagne tasting and tours. Unbeknownst to a tourist driving through the town, Champagne ages in the many caves and tunnels carved from chalk, spanning 250km under the city forming a maze. People come from all over to press grapes after harvest to get vin de cuvee, the first press. The second press is called vin de taille which is a lower quality but richer in tannins, so depends what your preference is.
We booked a tour to Reims, located approximately 2 hours outside of Paris. It was supposed to include a visit to three tasting houses but one of them was closed. It is very interesting how it works. You really don’t know which tasting house you will end up at until you actually get there because it is all regulated. The tour also included a fabulous lunch with wine, of course. Who knew that Champagne had so many regulations? Champagne is a type of white wine made from only one type of grape- the black grape (AKA red grape). Not just any black grape, the two grapes which are permitted are Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier.
It was snowing the day that we went to the town of Champagne which made the drive through the hills, plains, trees and vineyards even more breathtaking. As you drive through the town, you will see Champagne house after Champagne house. I tried to take pictures of as many as I could, especially on Avenue de Champagne. Champagne differs from wine in more ways than the bubbly. To be considered “champagne” it must meet the French law which states that all champagne must spend at least 15 months aging in cellars, post bottling. At least 12 of the 15 months is spent maturing and this is when the dead yeast cells break apart adding flavor to the wine. Vintage champagnes means that it has been aging in the cellar for at least three years. It is not uncommon to find Champagnes that have been aged nine years or longer. Why do they age the Champagne? Aging causes the Champagne to have a golden color and the bubbles become softer.
“If life brings you troubles, drink some Champagne, then your problems will just become bubbles…”~ author unknown
First stop, family owned Champagne Dauby!! Family owned wineries are night and day from commercial producers. Typically, at a family owned champagne house, the owner is present and is excited to share their family story with the visitors. They share what their most popular wines are and the meanings behind each name. At Dauby, some of the wines were named after their daughter. The family was very welcoming and communicated quite well in English; however, our guide was present to interpret as needed. We started out by heading down into the cellar. The cellars are naturally cool year round but not freezing. In fact, I was warmer down there than in the house! The owner stopped at each crate of champagne and explained the maturation process from first fermentation to recorking. The bottles are face down to the let the sediments settle in the neck.
After all of the sediments have settled Champagne goes through a process called disgorgement where they freeze the neck and a machine removes the particles which have formed a type of solid, frozen cylinder. Then, sugars are added and it is recorked. Absolutely fascinating! We learned that rosé Champagne is pink in color from extracting juice from the grape skins. I have to say the tour was highly educational. I am thankful we went to this winery first because I retained much more information at the beginning of the wine tasting tour than at the end of the day.
Lunch time!!! After all those sips of Champagne, you will be ready for a bite to eat.
Not just any bite to eat though, amazing French cuisine at La Cloche Hotel & Restaurant located in Épernay. La Cloche is a modest 3-story inn located near the historic buildings of Avenue de Champagne! It the first time I have ever had fresh mozzarella with herbs on toast salad. Visit with the other guests on the tour from around the world. We were in Reims in December, which is a very cold time of year. It felt beyond cozy ducking into this warm restaurant where we were served hot, fresh bread and baked chicken with a French sauce along with vegetables.
Final stop, Mercier! Mercier is commercial-scale Champagne house. Of course, we had topose for pictures outside upon arrival. Then we were guided into a small theater viewing room where we watched a short film about the history of Mercier. Next we were in an elevator going 30 meters down to an underground cellar. Once we stepped outside of the elevator, we were boarding a train ride through the cellar and caves. It is pretty over the top! It is a cross between Disneyland and Champagne tasting. The guides tell about the story of the giant barrel that took over 10 years to build abd holds 200,000 bottles of wine. The barrel was transported to the Paris Exposition in 1899 and was one of the biggest highlights, with the exception of Gustave Eiffel’s Tower.
After the champagne tasting, there is an opportunity to purchase champagne and gift sets. They will ship to your destination. Great experience, but very commercial.